Health care is the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease, injury and other physical or mental impairments through medicine, surgery and other allied health professions. It includes research, education, patient care, public health and other services for individuals, families and communities. Health care is provided by a wide range of organizations, including hospitals, clinics, managed care plans, ambulatory care providers and community health centers. In addition, a number of private and for-profit insurers, as well as state and federal governments, provide healthcare coverage through various programs.
A country’s healthcare system consists of its physicians, nurses, patients, hospitals, payers (insurance companies or government insurance programs), related businesses and laws, and policies and regulations. Some countries have a mix of both private and public systems, with healthcare available to everyone who can afford it regardless of income, while others have universal or socialized healthcare systems where all citizens receive healthcare free of charge based on need.
Some economists believe that healthcare should be allocated based on cost-benefit, meaning the best value for money spent, in terms of how many lives are extended or improved and in what quality of life. Other healthcare allocation ideas include fairness, equity, and optimum efficiency.
People’s healthcare needs change over time, and these changes can affect how much they need to spend on their medical care. Some of these changes can be controlled, while others are not. For example, a person’s age and lifestyle can affect their health risks. Some of these risks can be reduced with regular exercise, a healthy diet and adequate sleep.
The most effective way to reduce costs and improve the quality of healthcare is through efficient use of resources. To do this, all aspects of the healthcare system must be optimized — from the delivery of care to the management of healthcare data. This can be done through process improvement, technology implementation and strategic planning.
One of the most important aspects of healthcare is communication, which starts with listening to a patient’s concerns and answering questions. This can be done through regular office visits or by phone and online. In addition, doctors should explain procedures and outcomes in an understandable manner, answer questions promptly and be accessible to patients.
Most developed countries have large, integrated healthcare systems that consist of hospitals, primary and specialty care physicians, and other allied health professionals. Some of these systems are publicly funded through regional or national budgets, while others are privately funded. Those with public systems typically pay for their healthcare through taxes or contributions to a mandatory insurance fund.
Managing and paying for healthcare can be complicated, especially with so many options. Many people obtain their health insurance through their workplace or a private insurance company. Others receive it through government programs such as Medicare or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The federal government provides the majority of funding for these programs, but individual states manage their own portions of local healthcare and the safety net. People can also pay for their own healthcare directly through a medical savings account or through private insurers that offer products such as high-deductible health plans.